frustrated child

Why schools must teach unemployment skills

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Senator Jackie LambieI’m making a documentary inspired by the Global Financial Crisis.

It looks at why schools should teach unemployment skills.

Although mainland Australia was spared much of the hardship experienced in other parts of the world, Tasmania was not as fortunate, and youth unemployment, even in good times, often hovers between 20 and 30 percent.

The GFC hit Tasmania’s North West Coast particularly hard. Employment prospects for those aged between 18 and 25 were bleak, especially in Burnie. I witnessed the desperation and despair my students faced as they tried to find a job. I realised that schools are not preparing students for a future in which they might face long periods of unemployment.

Burnie is an industrial town and many of its people are employed in the trades or have blue collar jobs. Its paper mill was once the biggest employer in the area for successive generations, but it shed employees when cheaper imports ate away profits, and it was eventually forced to close.

After the mill shut, Bunnings demolished the buildings and replaced them with one of its big-box hardware stores. Bunnings is big but is unable to employ as many people as did the defunct paper mill. People left town seeking employment elsewhere and those who didn’t — or couldn’t — leave faced stiff competition for scarce jobs. Or they became unemployed.

As the population of Burnie declined so did its education standard.

The schools on the North West Coast (including those in Devonport) have some of the lowest numeracy and literacy rates in the country, and many of its students are destined, if they stay here, for low paying jobs, or no jobs at all.

Burnie now suffers from intergenerational unemployment; the families who would once have worked at the mill now spend their days at Centrelink.

This is the reason I’m shooting a documentary. What hope do graduating students have in an area with chronic unemployment?

The familiar mantra of study hard to get a job is obsolete. Instead, resilience and persistence are more desirable qualities when facing an uncertain future. Strategies to maintain a healthy self-esteem after rejection, how to budget on unemployment benefits, or on years of casual, short-term and contract work, are what’s needed now.

Why not also encourage entrepreneurial skills, so that students could avoid fruitless job applications and create their own opportunities instead?

Several Year 10 students are crewing on this documentary. On a typical day we walk around Burnie hoping to interview people out shopping. We approach a couple of women who look suspiciously at the camera and the microphone attached to the boom pole. I ask if they will comment about unemployment. They say they won’t talk on camera and walk way. I approach another group of women who also refuse to talk on camera. One pauses then adds that schools, “don’t teach them enough,” before she hurries off.

woman on camera

I’m surprised that people are nervous. Why won’t they answer questions that could provide insight and potentially help future generations? My students are unfazed and say this is typical of Burnie.

woman walking down street

Luckily, I’d arranged to speak to Senator Jacqui Lambie who represents Tasmania in the Federal Parliament. She agrees that students on the North West Coast have a real battle ahead of them in a depressed economic area.

She discusses her experience with long-term unemployment. She spent seven years receiving benefits while she recovered from a back injury and raised two children. She knows all too well the feelings of despair and frustration that accompany constant rejection.

We speak to youth workers at Burnie City Council who agree that schools need to discuss unemployment. They understand the problems facing this generation of school leavers.

The reality is that that there are not enough jobs. If students are told the truth about their prospects, perhaps they will find a way to change it.

But if we don’t tell the truth how can we help anyone?

* Why schools must teach unemployment skills will be uploaded to Youtube


Author: Sue Bell
Sue Bell is an entertainment writer and author of Backpacked: A mostly true story, Beat Street and When Dreamworks came to Stanley.

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